Hawks hoping to build on momentum against James Wood

Ryan Scott Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline and James Wood each entered the 2017 high school football season seeking to rebound from a 2-8 season last year, and both picked up their first wins of the new season last week. One of those two teams will take another big step toward a turnaround when the Hawks and the Colonels meet tonight in Front Royal.

Skyline enters the 7 p.m. home matchup in Week 3 riding some momentum after a 32-22 win over Broadway last week. But the Hawks were in a similar situation a year ago and followed a big road win over the Gobblers with five consecutive losses, a streak capped by a 26-0 defeat at the hands of James Wood.

The Hawks (1-1), a much more experienced group than a season ago, are hoping for a different outcome tonight in the Northwestern District matchup.

“We’re definitely way more prepared than we were last year,” Skyline senior quarterback Ryan Scott said Tuesday. “Just coming off of a loss and then a win, the win really made us want to win this next one because we have to get a winning season this year. I expect another win. That’s what I want for my team and that’s what they want too, so we’re gonna go out there and get it.”

Skyline’s offense, which was limited to just 13 points in the season opener against Central, is coming off an efficient performance against Broadway that saw the Hawks overcome lopsided disadvantages in total offensive plays (Broadway ran 79 to Skyline’s 37) and time of possession (34:40 to 13:20) en route to the win.

Led by Scott’s 288 yards of offense and four total touchdowns, Skyline rushed for 221 yards, passed for 157 and averaged 10.2 yards per play against the Gobblers.

James Wood (1-1) is allowing 43 points per game through the first two weeks.

“I want them to … just execute the plays the right way and continue to improve,” Skyline head coach Heath Gilbert said of his offense, which is averaging 22.5 points and 324 yards per game this season. “I thought as an offensive line group we’re playing much better than we have been. That was one of our best games for a while (against Broadway), so I’m hoping to see that continue.”

The Colonels enjoyed their own offensive outburst last week in a 66-28 win over Park View (Sterling), a game in which sophomore running back William Crowder rushed for three touchdowns.

Gilbert said James Wood is running a wing-T offense under first-year head coach Ryan Morgan, though in pistol sets that add some semblance of the single-wing to the scheme.

“I like it. It’s kind of cool,” Gilbert said. “But once you kind of, ‘OK this motion equals that, that motion equals this, this motion equals that,’ you kind of get an idea of what they’re trying to do. It’s up to our kids to execute. They have a nice, good-looking offensive line. They’ve got good size, height and weight. You’ve gotta get off blocks.”

Skyline, which surrendered over 300 yards rushing per game in 2016, has started the new season on a similar trend, having allowed 305.5 yards per contest on the ground in the first two weeks. Opposing offenses are averaging 420 yards against the Hawks – who gave up 447 yards last week to Broadway – but Gilbert said he’s seeing improvement from Skyline’s defense.

“From where we were last year to where these kids are now, we’re getting better and better,” he said. “But we’re still doing stuff, taking the easy way out, not playing consistent. We’re running around blocks at times still, which creates running lanes, and Broadway did a great job taking advantage of that. The more we become consistent with our technique, the better off we’re gonna be.”

Gilbert added that special teams have taken on an added emphasis this week, noting Crowder’s additional impact in the kick-return game.

“If we’re giving up return yards, those hidden yards that you’re not seeing on an offensive stat sheet, that’s gonna be a problem,” Gilbert said.